Retail Gains Jobs in February

Small pick-up in apparel manufacturing as textiles decline.

Apparel and general merchandise retailers added jobs in February as employers added a total of 236,000 to nonfarm payrolls and the unemployment rate dipped to 7.7 percent from 7.9 percent.

According to seasonally adjusted figures released by the Labor Department Friday, apparel and accessories stores hired 2,000 workers to employ 1.46 million, while general merchandise stores, a classification that includes discounters and department stores, grew their payrolls by 4,000 to employ 3.09 million.

Among the department stores, the job count rose by 1,000 to 1.48 million.

Overall retail employment grew by 23,700 to 15.06 million from the January count of 15.03 million with all segments of retailing adding jobs with the exception of electronics and appliance stores, which shed 8,100 positions.

Much of the strength in overall employment has come from the construction sector, which, according to Nigel Gault, chief U.S. economist for IHS Global Insight, has added an average of 30,000 jobs a month for the past five months.

Gault characterized the numbers as “a combination of good and bad news. The good news was that employment rose; the bad news was that the labor force fell as the participation rate dropped back to match its low point for this cycle.”

The IHS economist revised his expectations for growth in gross domestic product based on expectations that sequestration will remain in place through June, as opposed to earlier assumptions that it would end early in the second quarter. GDP for 2013 is now projected to grow 1.8 percent, down from 1.9 percent in the month-ago forecast. Second-quarter growth, however, is seen slowing to 0.7 percent from 2.3 percent in the first quarter.

“The sequester will not derail the recovery, but it does slow it down,” Gault said.

Scott Hoyt, director of consumer economics at Moody’s Analytics, said, “Overall, it’s a good report, and to a fair degree that’s also true for retail, which has added a sizable number of jobs since August.”

Yet he considered the small gains among stores last month a bit puzzling because of lukewarm demand in stores brought on by “gas prices, the increase in Social Security taxes and, for upper-income households, higher taxes.

“Department stores had their best growth since last April,” he observed. “Specialty stores were a bit disappointing — their second weakest month since last April following a decline in January.”

In the manufacturing sector, apparel producers added 300 jobs to employ 149,000 while both textile mills and textile product mills saw employment drop. The mills lost 400 jobs to employ 114,500 nationwide while textile product mills also lost 400 jobs to employ 117,300.